Archive for February, 2011

Kodansha gets Vertical; fans’ hearts skip beat

February 23rd, 2011
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The news flashed across Anime News Network’s Twitter feed around 3:12 p.m. Hawaii time Wednesday: “News: Kodansha, Dai Nippon Printing Buy Vertical.”

It was a lightning flash across the Twitterverse and the manga blogosphere in general. It was even accompanied by a clap of thunder as I read it. Well, okay, so we’ve been having our share of thunderstorms rolling across Oahu, so it was just a coincidence. I don’t even think there was thunder exactly when I read that — I’m just overdramatizing it in my mind. But still, I’m probably speaking for a lot of people who read that and immediately thought the same thing I did: Oh, no. There goes the best thing going in translated manga.

The trepidation was understandable. Vertical is known as the spunky little manga engine that could, the publisher that has in its corner great series that I’ve gushed about in this space in the past like Black Jack, Chi’s Sweet Home, Twin Spica, and 7 Billion Needles, and the place that would finally make older manga fans’ dreams come true by bringing over Tezuka’s Princess Knight and the wine manga Drops of God. Kodansha, by contrast, is known more for what it hasn’t done yet — release more than Akira and Ghost in the Shell reprints, create a Web presence that’s more than what amounts to a one-page press release, reintroduce dormant properties like Initial D and Nodame Cantabile — than what it has.

Fortunately, subsequent hours proved more reassuring for manga fans. It helps that there wasn’t much of the “radio silence” that usually comes with such announcements, and that Vertical Marketing Director Ed Chavez hopped onto Twitter shortly afterward to answer questions and reply to various tweets. It’s there that we gradually learned that the deal had been in the works for at least two years or so; the deal is more an investment by Kodansha and Dai Nippon Publishing, rather than Vertical being bought out and incorporated into Kodansha’s corporate structure; the Vertical name and brand will continue to exist; it’s status quo for all current series and those yet to come, even if some series (7 Billion Needles and Twin Spica among them) aren’t from Kodansha; and the deal is just as much the story of Dai Nippon Publishing’s involvement, as that company will help enhance Vertical’s equally-as-fun-to-read non-manga catalog as well.

I’ll probably talk about this more in a future edition of Cel Shaded, but here are some initial thoughts: I’m already impressed with the way the situation has been handled, how information has been quickly distributed and misconceptions cleared up right away. Vertical’s always been tops in my book in that regard, and we saw another demonstration of that today. I only hope that as the months pass, we continue to see the same level of openness and care as we do now … I have to admit, in the back of my mind I can’t help but think of Del Rey, another publisher that carried on a strong rapport with fans for several years, only to be marginalized and rendered largely moot in the long run.

But I have faith in you, Vertical. Please don’t let me down.

The Manga Movable Feast: Revisiting Barefoot Gen

February 19th, 2011
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It’s time once again for the Manga Movable Feast, your recommended monthly allowance of must-read manga as served up by the manga blogosphere (and one of the increasingly rare times when I seem to be putting on my reviewer’s cap these days). This month’s MMF, hosted by Sam Kusek over at A Life in Panels, focuses on a series quite dear to my heart: Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa, the story of how one boy’s life was changed forever when the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.

The first time I ever wrote something about Barefoot Gen was around 2008, when I was deep in the process of writing The Rough Guide to Manga (still hanging in there and available at your online book retailer of choice, and by the way, thank you to the people in Seattle and Nashville who bought three copies on Amazon in the past month or so). I knew that Barefoot Gen had to be one of the 50 must-read series that I included in the book’s core section, the Canon. Here’s some of what I wrote about the series back then:

An account of the story through the eyes of an adult would be gruelling enough to read. The perspective of a child — and one who sees most of his family die before his eyes, at that — makes for a devastating read, and one that’s more easily identifiable for younger readers. Yet Nakazawa’s message is also one of dogged determination, of persevering and surviving through the hard times to ensure the mistakes of the past are never repeated.

… and after that section, my book shifts to a discussion of the carnage and calamity inflicted in Battle Royale, complete with a scan of a page from that manga showing someone’s head being forcibly divorced from his body. But let’s not think about that. (As an added trivia note, the essay that came before Barefoot Gen in the Canon: Banana Fish.)

For those of you who have yet to read Barefoot Gen — well, go on, get going, it’s probably available in a library system near you. (A quick check of the Hawaii library system catalog shows all 10 volumes are available.) If I were to narrow down the Canon further to include the five series that remain embedded in my mind two years after I sent my last final-draft rewrites to my editor, this would be on there, no question.

For while casual readers already know from their history lessons in school that the Hiroshima that series protagonist Gen Nakaoka lives in will be bombed on Aug. 6, 1945, and that tens of thousands of people will die, what they probably don’t know about are the hardships that the Japanese endured both before and after the bomb dropped. Where Nakazawa’s narrative excels is not in the actual bomb-dropping itself; to put it into perspective, the bombing takes place about a tenth of the way into the story. (Although the images of flesh melting off bodies and corpses littering the streets don’t lack impact by any means.) The real impact lies in how 7-year-old Gen manages to persevere through hardship piled upon heartbreaking hardship. Before the bombing, Gen’s father, Daikichi, was an outspoken critic of the war who felt Japan should instead strive for peace with the Allied powers; consequently, the Nakaoka family was ostracized by neighbors and the authorities alike. (One sequence shows sister Eiko being stripped, accused of stealing something that she didn’t steal.) After the bombing, we see Gen and his mom watch as his dad, sister and younger brother are burned alive under the ruins of their home, then cope with the birth and subsequent death of his baby sister, then deal with the prejudices and misconceptions that many Japanese held against the bombing survivors.

Since writing about Barefoot Gen for the book, I’ve picked up several other resources: the Barefoot Gen anime (two movies released in Japan in 1983 and 1986, released on one DVD by Geneon stateside in 2006) and Hiroshima: The Autobiography of Barefoot Gen (edited and translated by Richard H. Minear), chronicling Nakamura’s real-life experiences and thought processes in creating the manga. I had hoped to watch and read all of those by now, but … well, regular readers of this blog can probably recite by heart what I’m going to write next: Work has been busy, haven’t been able to write as much as I’d like, blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda hey Jason just get back to writing about what you did read and watch and learn about already.

I did watch the first movie and read half the book, and my impressions are thus: The anime, while capturing the element of human tragedy from Nakazawa’s story — particularly in a sequence where people look like zombies stumbling about in the aftermath of the bomb — still feels like a gutted adaptation of the original. Part of it owes to the running time — with an 83-minute film covering what amounts to three volumes of the manga, it was inevitable that content would have to be excised. Unfortunately, it feels like much of the heart of the original story was removed along with the content. Any undercurrents of political commentary that Nakazawa had in his story, including Daikichi’s activist leanings, socially shunned Korean neighbor Mr. PakĀ  being the biggest help to the Nakaokas, and the debate over whether U.S. culpability in dropping the bomb trumped Japanese involvement in the war, is either muted or missing from this film. The message here is reduced to “the atomic bomb is bad” — a message that, while welcome, still pales in comparison with the original story.

But where the film simplifies, Nakazawa’s autobiography enriches, filling with color what he had rendered in black and white. It’s like the director’s cut of the manga, with additional commentary (and more horrifying details) thrown on top as a bonus. (To the credit of publisher Rowman & Littlefield, the book also includes excerpts from the manga as a handy comparison tool.) It’s here that we find that while some parts of the manga were dramatized, much of what goes on in Gen’s life are events that have parallels in Nakazawa’s life as well. For example, while Gen and his mom come upon the three other members of their family trapped under the house and watch helplessly as they burn to death, it was only Nakazawa’s mom who saw his dad and brother burn. (Sister Eiko apparently was crushed and killed instantly in the blast.) Remember how I said earlier that the manga is must-read material? The autobiography is must-read-right-afterward material.

Taste of ‘Kakimochi,’ part 2: The heart of art

February 11th, 2011
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Missed Part 1 of this account? You can read it right here.

Someone — I think it was MangaBento’s Brady Evans — asked me at the opening reception for the “Kakimochi” exhibit on Saturday, “So! Do you have any favorite pieces?”

The question reminded me of something I wrote about judging the Liliha Library Anime Art Contest, about how choosing a favorite piece is like choosing a favorite child among all your children. It’s just not possible to do without feeling like you snubbed something else.

And so it was with choosing pictures to spotlight for this post. Believe me, I’d love to feature all of the close to 70 works in the exhibit — probably around 150 if you count each one of Devin Oishi’s “64 Sketches” and the new pieces that have gone up since the reception. (More on those new pieces in a bit.) I hope that what I’m featuring below will be enough of a taste for those of you who aren’t able to make it out to the exhibit and will whet the artistic appetites of those of you who can make it out to the exhibit to see more. (As always, you can click on the pictures to see a larger version.)

So about that art. A diverse array of media is represented, from simple pen-and-pencil sketches to acrylic paintings, digital prints, photographs, even a few ceramic pieces. So you have something like this untitled piece by Algeson Panopio …

… along with this Copic marker-inked three-panel piece, “Lai Mai Lai,” by Nicole Kanemoto.

… and an incredibly detailed pen-and-ink work by Devin with an equally detailed name: “Hakaida vs. Jiro: Yoshitoshi Danjuro Starring as Hakaida.”

There was also a drawing by Schyler Lai Shinde. Yes, that Schyler. And yes, you can see his fine pencil work on display in this drawing, too.

A tribute to late artist Ryan “Buuzen” Lapastora is present with the inclusion of two of his drawings; here’s one of them, “Sunset.”

And I love the childhood innocence — and vibrant colors — in Angela Song’s “Children’s Day.”

The photographic element is represented with Jeff Gaskell’s panoramic “Shibuya Summer,” which is neat in the way the image fades from photo into a wire-line image.

Ceramics are represented by these pieces by an anonymous artist and Lia Rodriguez. I must confess, I skipped over these the first time I was at the exhibit, thinking they were part of the Academy’s permanent collection. That omission, as you can see here, has since been corrected.

Like acrylics on canvas? Here, have these two paintings by Yumiko Glover, “May I Have Your Attention Please” and “The Messenger,” with their alternate take on the Red Riding Hood tale. I understand Yumiko actually worked on “The Messenger” first, but the two pictures work so well together. Plus the attention to detail is wonderful, particularly on the video screens on the airplane seats.

Nak Yong Choi and Danny Deocares did this piece, “Sehmowzow,” notable for being the only piece I’ve ever seen where a giant alligator isn’t about to ravage some poor, defenseless town, but instead is more than content to dance the hula with his friends.

Those of you who went to the Kawaii Kon art auction may remember this painting by Dennis Imoto. And if you didn’t go, you’ll remember this painting now. It’s one of those images that just sticks in your mind and doesn’t let go.

There are also several local professional artists participating in the show. Ryan Higa — no, not that Ryan Higa, but the printmaker behind Gruntled Funk — contributed this acrylic painting capturing a moment in that universe, “An Unembarrassed Manner.”

nemu*nemu artist Audra Furuichi naturally had a piece spotlighting the plush pups’ owners, Anise and Kana.

But before nemu*nemu came along, there was a piece Audra did in 2005 in watercolor and color pencils, “Reminiscing.” Fans of the strip will immediately notice something a bit … familiar … about the young women pictured below.

And then there was this piece that shows Audra’s range beyond the nemu*nemu girls, a watercolor she did back in 2004, “Terra,” based on the Final Fantasy VI character.

Star-Advertiser cartoonist Jon Murakami, meanwhile, posted some “Ararangers” prints and several kakimochi-related comic strips. But I loved this print, “Comfort Food,” the most. Because as any true connoisseur of local snacks will tell you, popcorn and kakimochi are a match made in culinary heaven (and, admittedly, a nightmare for anyone not used to the smell sitting next to you in the theater).

He also drew “Arare Fight,” a comic drawn especially for the exhibit.

Speaking of comics, there were several others posted around the gallery. My favorite was this untitled piece by Eileen Roco recounting the story of Noah’s Ark.

And that would be the end of the story if not for the fact that I went back to the exhibit a few days later — Thursday, the same day part 1 of this account went up. Part of it was to reshoot some of the pieces and, as I mentioned earlier, get pictures of the ceramic pieces I had missed on Saturday. It’s a good thing I did, because something new arrived at the exhibit since the opening.

I give you … THE CUBE.

Yea, verily, THE CUBE COMPELS AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION.

And frankly, with pictures like these, who could possibly turn it down?

So off I went to the make-and-take table, which also had a few previously unseen adornments of its own.

So did I draw something? Of course. Not something for the cube, mind you … something smaller, on the surface of the make-and-take table.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you … the world’s ugliest cute bunny EVER.

… note to self: Start looking through pile of “how to draw manga” and “how to draw, period” books immediately.

A clarification: After Part 1 was posted yesterday, Devin Oishi sent me this note clarifying Ayumi Sugimoto’s role as MangaBento’s founder:

Ayumi is from Japan, and she was an established animator specializing in backgrounds when she came to Hawaii. MangaBento was founded as an offshoot of a series of workshops she held on anime and manga at Ben Franklin and maybe other places. Her plans to move to Hawaii fell through. but the core staff — Scott Yoshinaga, myself, and several others — kept it going.

Thanks for the clarification, Devin!